The Pentax MX has come to me at a strange time in my photography journey. It’s come to me when I’m at an all time low ebb both in terms of my inspiration to shoot and my inspiration to play with cameras. Despite these issues, I’ve still found the Pentax MX to be a relatively enthralling bit of kit – it’s been one of only a few cameras in my dwindling “collection” of camera stuff I’ve bought to write about that I’ve remained interested in shooting.
As such – with little sign of my lack of inspiration completely dissipating – I decided to embrace the small bit of favour I’ve found for this small bit of camera and start a bit of a series of posts about it. I’ve written about another SLR camera in this way before – last time it was about the Nikon F75 – and although back then my overall feelings toward photography were more positive, some of my motivations were the same.
To begin with, I felt as though I’d found a camera that I wanted to shoot a bit more than the just-enough it can take to write a review. I often enjoy the constant cycle of cameras – buy, review, sell, repeat – but I’m pretty much exhausted by that process at the moment.
Like with the Nikon F75, there’s also an element of committing to something outside of my usual comfort zone… and with this comes the all important learning bit. Spending time with that F75 helped me get to grips with using my good left eye to frame with an SLR. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately, using the few manual focus SLR cameras I’ve been shooting recently has now been helping me learn to focus with my good left eye too. It was a problem with my right eye that turned me off SLRs way back when, so it feels like a big thing to be finally overcoming this problem.
I’ve been making progress too, but constantly switching from one camera to another, often with different types of focusing screens, has felt like it’s throwing me off course a bit. As soon as I feel like I’m getting used to one type of screen, I’m on to another.
Discovering the Pentax MX
I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter how much I think I know about cameras, the amount I actually know about all the models that have ever been made by every brand of 35mm cameras is probably a fraction of 1%. There is of course no way that I could possibly quantify that statement – it’s impossible to know how much I know, never mind how much I don’t… but sometimes I’m given reason to realise that there are quite profound holes in my knowledge.
The Pentax MX sat in one of those holes, and in fact appears to have been a bit of a blind spot for pretty much as long as my obsession with photography has been a thing. That is to say, I’ve only recently discovered its existence.
This might not seem particularly unusual, but I was previously quite sure that I was fairly au fait with this era of Pentax cameras. The Pentax MX is one of the “M-Series” cameras and lenses that Pentax manufactured between the mid 70s and mid 80s. A series known for the diminutive size of the kit, I was first made aware of them in the very early stages of my previous job in a camera shop.
When I started the job my first task was to take stock of all the old second hand film equipment that was languishing in the bottom of one of the cabinets. One of the cameras in that cabinet – in fact the one I was most taken with at the time – was the Pentax ME Super.
I used to read online about most of the cameras in the shop, and actually quiet specifically remember researching ME Super camera and the series of cameras it belonged to. Despite this, for one reason or another, the one camera in the range I must have somehow overlooked was the Pentax MX.
In overlooking it back then, it seems to have managed to stay off my radar for the subsequent 13 or so years. I guess when you think you know about something, it can become harder to learn that you don’t…? This all changed when was presented with one on a trip into London Camera Exchange in town. I walked into the shop, and in my usual fashion asked “what have you got that’s new and exciting?” – which roughly translates into “what have you got that’s old and that I specifically might like?”.
On this particular occasion, I was obviously in a fairly unresponsive mood, as when I was handed a silver Pentax MX by Gareth the store manager, I turned my nose up at it saying it wasn’t my sort of thing. Though I did leave the shop wondering how I’d never come across it as a model before.
Following on from this first encounter I then found myself experiencing quite a profound case of Baader Meinhoff frequency bias, and saw references to it pretty much everywhere I turned for the following week or so. Unfortunately, by the time my interest was piqued, the Pentax MX in the shop had been sold. That said, this was probably a good thing – it was a silver one, and really, by that point in time I had decided that I wanted a black one. I soon bought the one you see here off ebay…
So what, you might ask, turned me on to the idea of the Pentax MX? Well, I must be honest, the primary answer is in one of the original core values of this website – it’s a tiny camera. I much prefer smaller cameras, and the Pentax MX really is very small for what it is and does. In fact, as far as I can gather, it’s one of the smallest – if not the smallest – metered mechanical SLRs ever made… Yet another reason it’s so odd that it managed to stay off my radar for so long.
In actual fact, its small size is often seen as a con rather than a pro. The height of the body, and so the amount of camera given to grip, is really quite small. This doesn’t bother me at all really. My hands are fairly averagely sized I think – not big or small – but I’m able to hold onto it fairly comfortably. It’s nothing like as ergonomic or quite as easy to use as some of the bigger SLR cameras I’ve recently used – I can’t argue with that – but the benefit of the small size outweighs the handling “issues” for me.
Size and limitations
In fact, I’ve actually found significant benefit to me carrying a small, light, fully mechanical metered camera. As I said at the beginning of the post, I have been totally uninspired by pretty much everything recently. My working week has been little short of chaotic, so weekends have largely involved doing a fair amount of nothing.
The one thing that’s suffered most through all this has been my hobby-photography. I used to fit it into my home and work life, but it’s been squeezed out of both. What I’ve recently realise has happened is that I’ve lose the habit I had for snap-shooting. Whereas I used to carry a camera and take photos most days, I’m just not doing that anymore. I still often find myself with a camera, I’m just not using the things. Since having this realisation, I’ve decided I needed to rebuild that habit. But to rebuild it, I need to be very comfortable with the camera I’m taking out – or at very least have a camera that doesn’t feel like it’s getting in my way.
I tried shooting a couple of point & shoot cameras, but they’ve just not really given me what I wanted. I love point & shoot photography, don’t get me wrong, but at the moment everything in my life feel so fleeting that I wanted to shoot a camera that would allow me to connect a bit with the process. The Pentax MX – being a fully manual, mechanical metered camera – allowed that quite nicely. Importantly, though, its small size allowed me to do that without the sense that I’ve been weighed down or inhibited in the way a bigger SLR sometimes makes me feel. In short, the Pentax MX provides what currently feels like the perfect balance of functionality and constraint.
A successful first roll
As you can see, the shots from my first roll were really all just snaps. Now, I know a lot of people don’t see value in just snapping, but I really do. For me, photography is not just about the end result, I find the process of taking part enormously relaxing, if not meditative. I’ve quite genuinely not been as happy with my lot lately – that’s not to say I’m unhappy, I’ve just had a weight on my shoulders I’m sure most people experience from time to time. It might even be through simply missing finding the time to take photos, or it might be the work stress that’s causing me to not take photos in the first place. I’m not sure either way, but I’ve noticed it. More significantly though, I really noticed the positive feeling taking the odd minute here and there to shoot has given me.
I’ve shot another roll since this one too, and whilst I haven’t completely put down all the other cameras in the cupboard, I’ve mentally committed to shooting the Pentax MX unless some specific opportunity or need for another camera crops up. ￼This might not sound like total commitment from the outside, but to me it’s made a big difference. Removing the “which camera shall I take out today” complication from an already low ebb of inspiration has definitely been beneficial!
So yeah, more thoughts to come about this diminutive little gem soon. As I’ll get to in a future review, it’s not the perfect camera – but for me, for now, it’s working really well and doing a good job at seeing me through – and hopefully helping me come out of – the biggest bout of a lack of inspiration in photography and cameras I can recall having. Wish me luck!